by Patrick French
Book list *Starred Review* Nobel laureate Naipaul's readers know of his fierce intellect and literary prowess, his irascibility and pitiless condemnations. So how authorized was this living biography? And how did French cope? One should never underestimate a narcissist's craving for attention, and French is fearlessly inquisitive. He is also a superb stylist who combines sharp observations with judicial analysis, a skill much in demand in portraying such a contrary, celebrated, and controversial man of letters. French sensitively documents Naipaul's Trinidad childhood and the prejudice his immigrant Indian family faced as well as Naipaul's paralyzing depression as an outsider in England. To understand Naipaul, one must understand his father, and French perceptively recounts Seepersad's improbable rise as a journalist and his terrible fall. But it is the women in Naipul's life who have empowered him and who make this such a riveting, heartbreaking biography. Patricia Hale defied her family to marry Naipaul, and sacrificed everything to support his literary quest, only to have her Genius fall passionately in love with a woman who was his conspicuous mistress for more than two decades. French's deep respect for Pat infuses this sexually candid biography with sorrow, wonder, and dignity, and one can't help but assume that this was the ever-wily, truth-seeking Naipaul's secret intention.--Seaman, Donna Copyright 2008 Booklist
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
Choice As Naipaul's authorized biographer, French's exclusive access, and perhaps his own temperament as a writer, allows him to push the edges of Naipaul's self-mythologizing accounts of his ancestry and his father's literary ambitions and mental breakdown, revealing the emotional resonance of a moment in ways that Naipaul himself avoids. For example, he renders the illness and death of Naipaul's first wife in a way that exposes Naipaul's emotional and physical distance. French uncovers how Naipaul has aestheticized the narrative of his life to the point that human anguish has become transparent to him. He struggles between precise reportage and the admiration he feels for Naipual's work. Quoting his 1998 review of Naipaul's Beyond Belief, French writes, "Although [Naipaul] often brings the reader to a moment of realisation elliptically, there is a candour to [Naipaul's] writing" that is the source of his "integrity," his ability to render "the close analysis of human conduct" and what "enables Naipaul's work to transcend the peculiarities of his general theories, as he narrates the extraordinary lives of ordinary people from his singular perspective." This biography reveals that candor and integrity are, for Naipaul, more often applied to the lives and material circumstances of others. Summing Up:: Recommended. All readers, all levels. E. M. Huergo Montgomery College--Rockville Campus
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Publishers Weekly V.S. Naipaul's biographer aims not "to sit in judgment of the Nobel laureate, but to expose the subject with ruthless clarity to the calm eye of the reader." In this he succeeds admirably. Descendant of poor Brahmins, born in 1932 in Trinidad and educated in Oxford, Naipaul is haunted by matters of race, colonialism and sex. He is, says award-winning author French (Younghusband), both the racist (against those darker than he) and the victim of racial prejudice, tendencies that come through in his novels and in his treatment of friends and lovers. Haunting this biography are Naipaul's women. His wife, Pat, supported him, overlooked his affairs and his visits with prostitutes, and subordinated herself to his genius; Naipaul gave equally little to Margaret, his mistress. Naipaul and his books may be the subject of this work, but it is these and the other women whom he depended on and took for granted--from his editor to his mother--whose stories will keep that "calm eye of the reader" glued to the pages of this disturbing biography. 16 pages of photos. (Nov. 7) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Library Journal This sweeping biography follows the Nobel laureate from his childhood in Trinidad to his college years at Oxford, through his struggles as a young writer, across continents, and eventually to the accomplished literary figure we know today. French (Tibet, Tibet) pulls extensively from private papers and personal recollections, having conducted five research trips to the University of Tulsa, where Naipaul's papers are located. Those familiar with Naipaul know he is controversial for his political and social views. What may not be as widely known, which French reveals at length, is the controversy of his private life. Naipaul married Patricia Hale at the age of 22. During the decadeslong marriage, he visited prostitutes and had an intense sexual relationship for 24 years with Margaret Gooding, whom he often treated harshly and physically abused. Hale, diagnosed with breast cancer, likely declined in health after learning of Naipaul's encounters with prostitutes. On the closing pages, French provides an empathetic image of Naipaul, leaving final judgments of this complex personality up to the reader. Highly recommended for public and academic libraries.--Stacy Russo, Chapman Univ. Libs., Orange, CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.